Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14–41 is the first recorded message of the church following the earthly ministry of Christ. Peter not only explains the strange events that had drawn the crowd, but he preaches Christ.
The Spirit was promised by the prophets. The last days have begun. The people had heard the sound of the powerful wind. They had seen the tongues of fire on the heads of God’s people. They had heard disciples speaking in many different languages, which some attributed to drunkenness. Peter goes to the prophet Joel, and quotes the promised pouring out of the Spirit when the day of the Lord comes. Notice how Peter modifies “afterwards” to “in these last days.” Peter is making clear that the day of the Lord, the messianic time towards which the prophet pointed, had arrived. The point he is making for his first century hearers is important for us today. The last days have arrived. However long the period between the first and second comings of Christ, we do live in the last days.
God’s people are equipped to extend the call of the gospel. Joel emphasizes the breadth of the outpouring of the Spirit. Although, as we saw last week, the only way a person in the Old Testament could come to trust in the coming Messiah was by the work of the Spirit (parallel to what we see today), specific equipping of God’s people with the Spirit was narrow. Kings were anointed, and at times we are told of the Spirit coming upon them. Numbers 11:24–30 records the Spirit coming upon the 70 elders of Israel so that they prophesied — and two additional men, Eldad and Medad, who also prophesied. Moses refused to stop them. In contrast to those limited gifts of the Spirit, Joel anticipates a day when the Spirit will be poured out freely on young and old, men and women. Men and women both hold the general office of believer. Both have direct access to God through our exalted high priest, Jesus Christ. This deluging (to use Gaffin’s term) of the Spirit has the purpose of enabling everyone who calls on the name of the Lord to be saved. Look at the breadth in this chapter: people from multiple language groups, men and women. The church is expanding!
Christ was exalted to give the Spirit to his church. Christ was put to death by wicked men. Peter’s sermon starts out talking about the Holy Spirit, but the focus of the message is Jesus.
“It is worth noting that on the occasion of the dramatic events associated with the coming of the Spirit (2:1–13), the primary focus of this sermon, however, is not the Spirit but Christ. The Spirit comes down, and Peter, as every good preacher should, preaches Christ.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time, p. 121)
Peter points to Jesus miracles as authenticating his messianic office. He then promptly reminds the audience that they put him to death. There is corporate responsibility. And there may well have been those in that crowd who had shouted, “Crucify, crucify!” 50 days earlier. Do you find it challenging to understand who God can sovereignly plan all things, yet hold people responsible? We may not fully understand it, but Acts 2:23 pulls those concepts together.
God has raised and exalted him. Peter focuses on the great acts of redemption accomplished by Christ. Because he was the sinless sin-bearer, because he did his Father’s will, death could not hold him. The Lord raised him up. Peter takes you to Psalm 16, which certainly reflects David’s thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance. But Peter had been listening as Jesus, between his resurrection and ascension, showed his disciples how the whole Scriptures pointed to him. As David pours out his thanks to God, you hear Christ speaking through him, long before his incarnation. Jesus has been raised (that’s what we celebrate each Lord’s Day!) and now ascended to the right hand of the Father and exalted. He is the triumphant King.
Believe in the Christ, who is the receiver-giver of the Spirit. The exalted Christ was rewarded with the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit s the reward for Christ’s completed work. Pentecost is preceded by Christ’s humiliation, his life of obedience, his suffering and death. The glorious conclusion of Christ’s work is his resurrection and exaltation. The climax of that exaltation (short of his return on the clouds of heaven) is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter points out the connection by including the conjunction “therefore” (KJV & ESV., the NIV did not translate the “therefore”). Philippians 2 is a commentary on Peter’s point.
“Acts 2:33 does not simply say that following his exaltation, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit. Rather, it states that in having been exalted and before he poured out the Holy spirit, Jesus himself first received the Holy Spirit. It asserts a reception of the Spirit by Jesus in his ascension, correlative with his outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost…. Pentecost, together with the ascension, is the fulfillment of that promise, a fulfillment that takes place first for Christ in his ascension and then for the church at Pentecost. In being exalted, Jesus became the receiver-giver of the Spirit. Here, again, the primarily Christological and once-for-all redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost emerges.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time, pages 122–123)
Christ has now deluged his church with that Spirit. In his gift of the Holy Spirit Christ is with his church. Christ and his Spirit work so closely together, that there is “functional identity” of the two, 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:17. In the coming of the Comforter, Christ does not leave his church alone. This counteracts any idea of the Holy Spirit as a post-conversion second blessing. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the whole church of all time. Pentecost is not an example to be repeated (nor is the Book of Acts). Rather, Pentecost parallels Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation. This does not distance the Holy Spirit, or make him inaccessible, but rather makes him part of every Christian’s experience. See 1 Corinthians 12:13: every believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit. That event takes place as the believer is united to Christ’s body, a union which is sealed by the sacrament of baptism. The Holy Spirit equips the church for evangelism and missions, Acts 1:8. That was true for the apostles as the gospel went from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. It continues to be true today for us who live in these last days, bracketed by Christ’s first and second comings. The Holy Spirit is the power for obedience to the Word, Ephesians 5:18-6:4. The obedience which needs to be expressed in worship and in every relationship of life flows from the filling of the Spirit, Acts 2:41-47. The Spirit in you changes the way you see yourself. He gives you a focus, as the concluding paragraph of Acts 2 indicates, on the Word preached and taught, and on the breaking of bread and prayer. Worship is the work of the Spirit. He also shifts the way you live, giving you the freedom to serve God sacrificially. Keep on being filled with the Spirit. The once-for-all gift continues to make an impact on every area of your life. The Spirit with which the exalted Christ has blessed you, gives you confidence and hope.
“[W]e can be confident—despite adverse circumstances, despite repeated discouragement, despite the opposition that the church will inevitably encounter, not only from without but all to regrettably from within, despite times of spiritual decline and poverty—we can be confident in the commission given by the resurrected Jesus to the church because we know of the one-for-all finality of the Holy Spirit baptism that occurred at Pentecost. This gift, this great gift come at Pentecost, is irrevocable, unlosable. For that reason it is an ever-present dynamic sufficient for every task that the church encounters, every difficulty that Christians may experience.” (Richard B. Gaffin Jr., In the Fullness of Time, pages 127–128)
The exalted Lord, having received the gift the Father promised him, has now given you that same Holy Spirit. Go with confidence and joy to serve him this week.